What to do when it’s just you and several hundred people
Big room, big crowd, big sound system. It’s all about a big performance, right? In fact, the opposite is true. In my experience, larger audiences mean that it’s even more essential to take the approach of a one-on-one conversation.
What does that look like in the context of one presenter and hundreds of participants? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Talk to the audience as if you were at a really great social event with a group of professionals. In other words, you are kind of on your best behavior, but you can still be spontaneous, authentic and funny.
Tell stories – lots of stories. People are hard-wired to respond to, and remember, stories, so come prepared with anecdotes and examples. These can be some combination of work, practice or personal illustrations of key points. Just keep things brief and to the point.
If you’re using slideware rely on images versus text. This is a good principle for presenting to any size group, but it’s even more relevant with larger audiences where the sightlines may not be as good from every vantage point in the room.
Audit your presentation with a non-expert who has a really short attention span (I suggest a teen-ager). What parts of the talk do they like? Where are they bored? Adjust accordingly.
Promote direct interaction using methods such as: Individual reflection (“Write down the first thing that comes to your mind in response to the following statement…”); Peer-to-peer conversation (“take two minutes and turn to the person next to you and talk about…”); Rhetorical questions (“What would you do in the following situation?”); Video or audio clips with direction (“As you’re looking at this video, here’s what to watch for…”); A call to action (“What’s one thing you will commit to practicing after this session?”).
Reflect what’s happening in the here-and now. Is the room too cold or too warm? Are people tired or hungry? Is there an interesting event that’s all over the news? Acknowledge the “meta-context” in which the session is taking place.
I love giving talks to large audiences: the dynamic energy that happens when lots of people come together is socially infectious. It’s not you versus them – you’re all in it together.